Friday, May 26, 2017

Crying Over the Wrong Seals

   For the second time in this year's Seattle International Film Festival, my previously held, but not carefully considered beliefs have been challenged by a movie. This time the movie, entitled, "Angry Inuk," is about seal hunting. The film is made by an Inuit woman as part of their campaign to lift the ban on seal products in the EU and elsewhere.

 According to this eye-opening documentary, groups like Greenpeace and the Humane Society have been campaigning to protect seals long after their victory to protect the little white-fur harp seal babies in the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Those baby white seals are the poster pets and big money makers for the various animal rights groups, who keep "saving" those white pups, even though they are already saved.

 The result is crushing to the Inuit, who are indigenous to the Arctic regions of the world. They have always hunted ringed seals. Almost all "commercial" ringed seal hunting is small scale, done by the only people who really live in those remote frozen regions, the Inuit. They've always hunted seals. They eat the meat, and either sell the hides, or use them to make clothes or other items. By banning all products of "commercial' sealing, the EU, in particular, has closed the door on the Inuit people selling the only thing the Inuit have to sell; seal hides. How can the Inuit buy flour or manufactured goods like pots or pans unless they make a little money somehow.

 These indigenous people sit atop mineral and oil-rich areas, but they'd rather continue to hunt rather than sacrifice their territories to extractive industries. Seals, they point out, are not endangered.

 Part of the problem is that governmental bodies and save-the-animal organizations apparently decided what was best for the Inuit People without ever asking the Inuit. And according to this film, using the already-saved image of the little white seal pups draws millions of dollars in donations to groups like Greenpeace, Sea Shepard, and The Humane Society. Seals may be all the indigenous people of the frozen north have to sell, but saving the little white seal babies, which is a different issue, proved to be so profitable that these groups have continued "saving" all the other seals, using the image of the little white ones. The impact on indigenous communities was inconvenient, and didn't seem to matter. According to the film, Greenpeace finally apologized to the Inuits. But the EU ban on seal products continues.

 I've stomped my foot right along with the "save the baby seal" folks. It turns out those seals have been saved for many years. The Inuit, who hunt for different kinds of seals, are not. At one point in the film, an Inuit delegation to an important international meeting present their case to the voting members. An animal rights group showed up to pass out adorable little white fluffy stuffed seal toys to each official as they filed into the chambers, even though the topic of conversation was entirely different types of seals and methods of hunting them. By an overwhelming majority, the Inuit lost the vote. How can they, the poorest communities in Canada, compete with the well-funded animal groups? Before I saw this movie, I would have automatically been on the side of the animal lovers.

 I don't know how much crow I'm going to have to eat on this one; a lot, I'm guessing, but I LOVE having my preconceptions challenged, and I'm willing to admit being wrong. If you're willing to be exposed to a persuasive perspective you have probably not appreciated before, then be sure to catch "Angry Inuk" at SIFF. It screens twice, Sunday 5/28/17 and Monday 5/29. Go to for more info.

Friday, May 5, 2017

2 SIFF films to watch for

The SIFF press screenings have started and I have two films I want to direct your attention to.

Food Evolution

Featuring at one point Bill Nye the Science Guy, with Neil deGrasse Tyson as narrator, this documentary takes on the question of GMO food. Like most of you, I've generally been--without much real thought to the issue--on the side of the anti-GMO crowd, mostly because I'll never forgive Monsanto for the use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam. Then, at the recent Science March, I noticed signs that lumped the anti-GMO crowd with anti-vaccine and climate change deniers. That got my attention, so I've been meaning to think the topic through a bit. 

Today I saw a VERY persuasive movie on the subject. Some of the beauties of science are its insistence on basing theory on verifiable facts and its ability to change when confronted with new evidence. In that spirit, I'm siding with the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson on the GMO controversy. After watching this very good film, I am admitting that I got sucked in by the "Anti" crowd. If folks like us insist that we should "heed the science" on the question of climate change, then we really ought to do the same on the issues of vaccines (hello--no polio!) and, yes, GMOs. I can just hear your eyes bugging out as you read this, so I want to mention one thing I DO have experience with regarding GMOs. 

In the early years of my nursing career, patients with insulin dependent diabetes used insulin that was extracted from the pancreas of either cows or pigs. Doctors orders for insulin were often denoted with which type was to be used, because you couldn't just switch back and forth. Patients would build up a resistance to the cow or pig component of the insulin and require ever greater doses of the stuff to get the desired effect, among other problems. Then somebody here in Seattle genetically modified a yeast so it would generate insulin in the lab. This "Humulin" insulin does not have the beef or pig component. During the first years of its use, nurses had to be careful because we'd get patients who would come in getting whopping doses of beef or pork insulin and we could easily overdose them by administering the same dose of humulin. Nowadays, I think pretty much all insulin is humulin, with no escalating tolerance, much more consistent dosing, and for vegetarians, no sacrifice of a sacred cow. There can be no question in my nurse's mind that humulin insulin, one of the early practical uses for a GMO, was a great invention. I'm all for it, without any hesitation. Oddly enough, although I knew well the story of humulin insulin, I never translated that support over to the food GMO contoversy. I unthinkingly went along with the anti-GMO craze, partly because of my aforementioned disregard for Monsanto Corp, and mostly, I guess, because I was swayed by the WTO protesters (Vandana Shiva and others). This isn't the first wrong road I've been down but just like navigation, once you realize you're going the wrong way, what choice is there but to correct course. I don't relish admitting I was such a shallow fool, but that's what I'm doing now.

OK that's the end of my confession, go see the movie that inspired it. 


If you are a fan of the Mexican style of music typified by the song "La Llorona," or true stories of the lesbian lover of (among others) Frieda Kahlo, or ready to be inspired by a very strong Mexican singer who in her later years was promoted by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, then this doc is for you. Incredible music, amazing story, about a woman I had heard, but never heard of. I couldn't get enough of this film, and encourage you to enjoy it too.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Face of America

About a week ago a young man was working in his own front yard when a white man came up, started yelling, pushed him to the ground, and then shot him. "Go back to your own country," the attacker snarled. The victim is Sikh, whose religious customs require wearing a turban. They are often mistaken for Muslims. The victim survived and was able to describe the attack. The attacker, a complete stranger, has not been identified or found. Authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime.

This happened in Kent, WA, two or three towns south of Seattle. It wasn't the only incident lately. Just a couple days ago, a synagogue on the north end of Seattle had rightwing graffiti spraypainted on it. A couple months back, my stepson, Jamar, told me that where he works the two guys who share the office next to his are Mexicans. Since Trump's election there have been multiple incidents where white male customers have started shouting at his co-workers. In the five years they've worked together, this never happened until the election.

After the synagogue was defaced, a supportive neighbor hung a sheet over the paint, but the synagogue took the covering down. They want people to see what's going on. I'm reminded of Emmett Till's mother, insisting on an open casket funeral for her son. Don't look away, see what hate has done.

So when our neighbors told me there was going to be a rally down in Kent in response to the shooting of the Sikh, Kay and I carpooled down with them. Leaving Seattle, we felt like we were heading for the hinterlands. We talked on the way down about how glad we were to be going to a political event somewhere besides the Seattle core.

The rally was held indoors, in a Lutheran church. That was nice, because it was raining. About 500 people showed up. It was an assembly of every sort of religious garb, and every sort of ethnicity. There were young, old, men, women--every demographic and angle. It turns out that Kent, according to the mayor, when she addressed the crowd, is the 5th most diverse city of its size in America. I think she said students in the Kent School District speak 130 different languages at home.

One of the speakers remarked that in the old days in Kent, Swedes and Norwegians refused to live next to each other. Now, the city prides itself on its diversity, and the way they all get along. Speaker after speaker reaffirmed that "an injury to one is an injury to all." You'd have thought you were in the Longshoremen's union hall.

One minister put forward that the backdrop for all this is a battle between monopoly and equality. Other speakers repeated that theme in various ways. A black minister in his 50s was eloquent and articulate: "I'm the demographic most likely to be shot, either by some enraged white guy or by the police!" There was fire and outrage, but the event was overwhelmingly positive, the closing of ranks on the high road. It was all about the founding values of our country.

Years ago, when I was making videos of the Somali struggles in Seattle, I learned a humbling fact. Immigrants believe in the American Dream far more than the native-born. After all, they had to claw their way to our shores, and the dream that kept them going, through whatever they had to endure to get here, far exceeds any sort of economic opportunity. They came to be part of America the Beautiful, America the secular, the tolerant. They seek a life of freedom and security, and by their very presence here, we know they're not quitters. That reality was on full display down in Kent. Nobody appreciates or loves America more than the recently arrived.

At a certain point in the program, a representative of the Church Council of Greater Seattle read and presented a letter signed by 200 or or more clergy in the region, all of whom presumably thundered out the call of unity to their respective congregations over the weekend.

I'm sure that the City of Kent is not alone as it rallies to defend the full flavor of life in this country. No doubt all across the land events just like this are blossoming forth. People get ready, there's a train a comin'. As we drove back to Seattle, I remarked that I went down to Kent to give them a little solace, and found, instead, that I was the one uplifted. Best afternoon I've spent in quite a while.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I nominate the current iPhone 7 ad for a Daisy Award

For lack of a proper term, I’m calling it the “Daisy Principle” because I heard it described when Seattle’s ACT theater group mounted a play “Daisy,” which had its run last summer. It was all about the Daisy Ad, famously used by Lynden Johnson to defeat Barry Goldwater in the 1965 presidential elections. Here’s a link to that original TV ad:

The play is about the creation of that ad, and focuses quite a bit on the theories of Tony Schwartz, a sound designer who came up with the original concept for the ad. Part of his theory was that there was no need to name the target of its attack. People, he argued, were already afraid Goldwater might be a loose canon, so there was no need for names or facts, the audience would fill in the blanks. An example of this phenomenon, put forth in the play, is counting one, two, three, and your brain auto-fills “four.”
            A reviewer, quoting from the play, put it like this: “our brain actively co-constructs our reality.” The idea was to create a “fact” out of thin air, by connecting to audience emotions rather than persuading them with actual details. “The most successful campaigns don’t control our minds—they reflect our feelings back at us. We don’t go with the product or president we understand, we go with the product or president who makes us feel most understood.” I’ll leave it to you to ponder how that 1965 concept fits modern times.
            Here, I’m focusing on a bit of word play: the Daisy Ad is known as the first political attack ad, that is, the first negative ad on TV. Moreover, it employs the use of negative space to accomplish its negative goal. Therein lies the pun and the principle. The ad is spare, like tight poetry. Jazz music is all about negative space when they play everything but the real note, forcing our brains to hear a melody that our ears did not. In typography, negative space fonts also rely on our brains to fill in the blanks. They look like this:

There is no S here, we create it in our mind.

            It’s that poetic use of negative space, coupled with a reliance on emotion to conjure fact, that I’m calling the “Daisy Principle.” I think the all time best Daisy ad would have to be the original Apple Macintosh 1984 ad, directed by Ridley Scott. It was intensely Daisy, a heavy attack ad with great use of negative space and emotional appeal. To watch that ad, click here:

Unlike the original Mac ad, the current iPhone 7 spot is not an attack ad at all. Nonetheless, it effectively relies on our brains to fill in what isn’t being said. And for that, and reasons I’ll describe below, I’m nominating the current Apple iPhone 7 ad for a Daisy Award. I’m not lauding the iPhone 7 here, but the advertising or movie-making technique used to promote it. The iPhone ad has great editing, pure poetry, and is definitely in the spirit of Daisy. If you want to watch the ad, click here:

           The music is “La Virgen de la Macarena.” She is patron of bullfighters and this is their classic song. It sets a heroic tone of courage, confidence and style. The man’s iPhone sits in a puddle, next to his drink. We, the audience, without claim or warranty, assume the phone can take it. He turns up the volume and the bass notes make waves in the standing water, while sound fills the diving pool amphitheater. The glint of sun, reflected off the face of his iPhone, visually reinforces the man’s sonic connection to the tiny device far below. Through his perfect dive the music track soars, even as he plunges below the surface, where in real life, even loudspeakers would be obscured. It’s an editing convention we’ve all been trained to accept. We were listening to a sound track but our brain heard an iPhone playing by the pool. The underwater sequence is the finger snap that releases us from hypnotic bondage, while the orchestra and the final splash on the phone quickly and gloriously returns us safely to where we started, happy but changed. The ad relies on no statistics or facts. It’s pure greater-than-life movie magic. As our minds filled in the convincing details, we sold the product to ourselves.
            I love how sparely this ad was edited. The rousing music is truncated perfectly. Each visual cut moves the action just enough and sells the story. Tension mounts and releases with a perfect landing. “Stereo Speakers on iPhone 7, Practically Magic” reads the end titles, but the magic was in the movie making.
            I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have appreciated the iPhone ad’s technique nearly so much if I hadn’t seen the play, “Daisy.” Proof, I suppose, of the value to be found in live theater. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Remembering a Positive Future

The first time American voters broke my heart was in 1968, when they voted in Richard Nixon. He was a red-baiting racist hater, whose right-wing politics were as ugly as that guilty scowl he wore. I couldn’t believe that Nixon, oh fucking Nixon was elected.
It was much like today, where the Democrats weren’t all that much better. In the streets we were chanting “Hey, Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?” Dry Balls Humphrey was the Democrats’ more-of-the same candidate, so the country went for Nixon, the right-wing asshole, whose lying lips promised a “secret plan to end the war.” That, as you might expect, turned out to be a huge escalation in bombing, the invasion of Cambodia, and the rest.
Many stepped up to join the movement, in one aspect or another, and the battle raged on many militant fronts. Here’s how it turned out: Although he initially very heavily escalated the war against Viet Nam, eventually Nixon had to shut the war down with a complete American retreat. Nixon also ended the Draft.
Nixon presided over the defeat of 30 years of US foreign policy against China. After the US couldn’t beat China on the battlefields of Korea, our policy had been to isolate China using trade embargos, and preventing China from joining international organizations, like the United Nations. That all finally fell apart under President Nixon, and China burst out of the box. Nixon even looked defeated when he was over there shaking Mao’s hand, heh, heh, “opening China.” We also got détente with the Soviet Union under that Republican Nixon, and the first nuclear arms deals (SALT I and then the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).
Domestically, the Nixon years saw the beginning of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), passage of the Clean Air Act, the initiation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Environmental Policy, which required environmental impact statements for Federal projects. Meanwhile, the Federal government continued to enforce desegregation in the South, as we were struggling to put the death knell to Jim Crow. You can bet that none of those victories were right-wing agenda items!
For our side, fighting wasn’t easy. Nationalism, and all sorts of divide and conquer are tough things to go up against. Hardhats against hippies. White against black. The Black Panthers were being gunned down, African Americans were oppressed, but they weren’t the only ones who suffered from the effects of racism. For a while in those days it wasn’t uncommon in Chicago for the police to drop white activists off into ghettos ruled by the Blackstone Rangers, a black gang. Nobody official cared what happened next. I was in a vet’s group with a Native American Army stockade guard. He was used by the prison administration to beat up white anti-war prisoners, which he willingly did, because of the hatred he had developed while growing up in racist America.
Divide and conquer was--and is--the low road, and it’s ugly. Like today, all too many people back then bought in to the scowl. But many more came to our side. The Army became unreliable, the country all but ungovernable. Nixon finally resigned in disgrace. We kept détente, and the nuclear treaty. We welcomed China, pushed the last helicopters into the seas off Viet Nam. We still have OSHA and the EPA, and Rock n Roll is here to stay.
The Nixon years are proof that we can win great victories after losing an election. Trump is all about divide and conquer, all about the scowl. Michael Moore, the lefty film maker, described Trump as a hand grenade thrown into mainstream politics by disgruntled voters. I kind of think that's a good analogy. If Clinton had won, we would have had four more years of stalemate on domestic policy, and a more hawkish foreign policy, but the legions of Democratic Party faithful would have stood down, making it hard to build a movement that really pushes things in a positive direction.
Trump makes shifty-eyed Nixon look honest, but we are way ahead of where the movement was at this point back in the 60s. For one thing, it’s not jocks against the peaceniks any more. The message coming out of American sports is the high road; of inclusion, team spirit, and racial unity. Some professional athletes are leaders of today’s movement.
Lately, my wife and I have been watching the Seattle Seahawks football games each week at our neighbor's house. A couple games back, the Hawks were defensively on the one yard line, which they are famous for defending. The other team was first and goal, which meant they had 4 tries to move the ball that final yard. The Seattle defensive line held, try after brutal try. The team motto of "defend every blade of grass" was in play here and through shear force of will, the Hawks kept them from scoring. That's the attitude being bantered about in Seattle with regard to Trump.
We are, I think, moving into a period of dramatically increased struggle with the possibility of significant progress. Historically, it seems that high points in movement foment are accompanied by leaps in art and culture as well. I can just feel the 60s coming on again. We didn't win every struggle back then, but my generation really did change the political landscape, even with a Republican president. Tough as it was, we proved it can be done. Many paid a price, but we had a great time doing it.
You know, in some ways, being an activist in my early years gave me a purpose, made me feel my life was dedicated to something bigger than myself. I'm pretty sure WW II did the same thing for my father’s generation. Things have been building up these last few years and now the Battle for the Soul of America might well give today’s youth that sense of sacrificing for something bigger, which would be a good thing for society in general, and a great benefit for the individuals involved. I feel like my life meant something, that I made a difference. That's a good feeling, and I wish it on the youth of today. They face many challenges and probably need all the good feelings they can get. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thoughts based on the WA caucus results

Bernie carried the WA State caucuses, winning 72%. The bigger story is that here in King County, the most populous county, the bastion of Seattle liberalism, Bernie only got 64%. That means that those Hinterland Democrats, the ones who actually rub shoulders with Republicans, voted overwhelmingly for Bernie. They must have voted the Bern by 85 or 90% to drag his state average up to 72%. They live among Republicans and in their collective wisdom, almost to a voter, they think Bernie has the best shot at beating the GOP candidate.

When big change is brewing, the middle erodes as the population polarizes. The "same-o same-o," is untenable, so both the left and the right have seen a flood of voters surging their way. Objectively, one side represents the future, the other the past. So when they each gather their strength the one side suffers bouts of desertion, and the other wins by a knockout.

Wouldn't you love to see a Bernie vs Butt Trumpeter contest? Bernie, the straight shooter, consistent, dignified and principled vs Mr. See Me Comb Over. A revolutionary situation is commonly defined as when the people can't go on living in the same old way, and the rulers can't go on ruling in the same way either. We're pretty much there on both counts. Think about the seeming suddenness of the gay rights sea change. Sure, there's more to fight in that regard, but we just went through the most amazing transformation. The future's on a roll.

Bernie, the social democrat vs the guy who represents all the lack of vision and empty, mean bravado that the Republican Party has come to embrace. In that race everyone becomes a Sandernista. And then runs every one of those obstructionist ass-holes out of Washington DC once and for all.

Of course, if voting actually changed anything, they'd make it illegal, which pretty much sums up the Republican strategy over the years, maybe a hint at something. This time around I expect them to count on terrorist bombings to "panic the herd" to the right, but that shows how desperate they are. Those guys are dinosaurs, over-stepping the paleogenic boundary,  who don't know their time is past. Maybe this is the election where it all falls apart for them.

Those Hinterland Democrats, seeded in Republican communities, are our forward observers, our embedded intelligence team. They know the people we have to win over, and they backed Bernie massively, a peep hole into what time it is in America. Let Trump, with his trophy wife, take cheap shots at Mrs. Sanders. Every woman in the country will vote him right to hell. Maybe it takes a Trump to get a Bernie elected. So be it. The middle erodes and the greatly expanded peripheries put up the best they have, representing their dream of the future, and one side wins. Then appoints Supreme Court judges, and does the right thing, over and again. Those Hinterland Democrats can see the tsunami that saves America--and maybe the world. It's a tidal wave of Berniecrats.

Randy Rowland

Friday, February 19, 2016

celebrating Giordano Bruno, Feb 17, 1600

I made a card to send to my father, who instilled in me a love of science. I used the first photo in this series for the card. Then I sent some extra cards to kids and ran out of photos, so you have to settle for this email, originally written to be sent in time for the anniversary of Bruno's execution.

The text inside the card:

On the anniversary of the execution of
Giordano Bruno in 1600, 

Bruno was a Dominican friar who came to believe in the new findings of science, shortly after the dawn of the telescope. Among his beliefs, he thought the earth revolved around the sun, as described by Copernicus, rather than the earth being the center of the universe. He also believed the universe was infinite, with no center at all. Stars, he felt, were other suns, but very far away. Bruno even wondered if those other suns might have planets around them, same as ours. He refused to recant his “heretical” beliefs, and was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition, after about seven years in their prisons. Turns out, of course, that Bruno was correct. Giordano Bruno is widely considered a martyr of science.

Only 10 years after Bruno’s execution, Galileo, famous for his telescope, came under pressure from the Church for his Copernican beliefs. Knowing full well what became of Bruno, Galileo is said to have recanted his theories to avoid a similar fate. Galileo continued, however, to work on his scientific pursuits while under house arrest for the rest of his life.

As of January 2016, over 2,000 planets have been discovered orbiting Bruno’s “other suns.”

Giordano Bruno, 1548-Feb 17, 1600

to which I add, since an email can contain more than a greeting card:

You may remember his story from the Cosmos series. Bruno was a sometimes professor & philosopher, 
living outside of Italy (thereby avoiding the Inquisition).

He returned to Italy and was arrested by the forces of reaction, to face a 7 year trial and torture ordeal, but refused to recant.

On Feb 17th, 1600, Giordano Bruno, condemned by the Pope as a heretic, was burned at the stake.

On the very spot in Rome where he was put to the torch, there now stands a monument to Bruno, erected in the late 1800s in spite of objections from the Vatican. My photos were taken of that monument in Rome, back in 2004.

Keep the faith,